Sunday, October 9, 2011

Melonseed Skiffs

New Jersey and the Delaware River Basin have a rich history of small craft. Unique vessels have evolved for hunting, fishing, clamming and transportation over a diverse range of water conditions.

From the shallow waters of Barnegat Bay through the surf off the Jersey Shore to the Delaware River, these vessels were designed as work boats which, over time, became recreational boats.

The Melonseed is still a popular design, which has been documented from 1882.

Melonseeds today have evolved from skinny water duck boats into conveyances for sailors who no longer hunt ducks. They still ply the same waters with their proven seaworthiness, fine bows and sleek, low hulls.

Recently three new Melonseeds were launched, which has set off a flurry of interest that has caught Doryman in it's wake.

There was Barry Long's matched pair of Marc Barto 13' Melonseeds, Aeon and Caesura. If you haven't followed Barry's diary about building these fine boats, he publishes as EyeinHand.

Barry's Melonseeds are strip-planked construction.

Then we saw Mike Wick's Moggie taking on all comers at the St Michael's Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival.

Mike's boat is a cold-molded Cortez 16 Melonseed, taken off a strip-planked hull. It might just be the lightest (and fastest?) Melonseed yet. I think Mike is just the guy to demonstrate what a Melonseed can do as a racer.

About twenty years ago, Marty Loken, who had the The Wooden Boat Shop retail store in Seattle at the time, was so impressed with Melonseeds that he commissioned a stitch-and-glue version from Sam Devlin.

Marty owns a Seaford Skiff built by Paul Ketcham of Amityville, New York, in 1950. He claims the Seaford Skiff is a delight to row or sail. "Like some other melonseed designs it has a plank keel and is very low in the water. You sit on the hull when sailing as though you're in a narrow Beetle Cat, and the overall sensation is a bit like sea kayaking... in the water, not just on the water."

Marty's Seaford Skiff is carvel planked.

The boat Marty commissioned is Sam Devlin's Melonseed, done in Sam's trademark stitch and glue construction method and called Zephyr.

Joel Bergen of Navigator fame chose the Zephyr as his first boat building project. We will have to dedicate some time to Joel's Melonseed at a later date. Apparently he kept a weblog while he was building his Zephyr, but that chronicle no longer exists.

The stitch-and-glue Melonseed lacks some of the gracefulness found in the round-bottom designs but can be built in 100 hours with minimal skills. It's a pretty boat with characteristically good sailing qualities.

In conversation with other boat builders, we agreed that this boat might make a very good sail-and-oar boat for RAIDs and weekend gunkholing.

Now you know why Doryman is so excited. Will we see a Doryman Melonseed?

The Voyage continues...

If there is to be a Doryman Melonseed, it will have to be clinker built.

Enough said.

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